SCG Worcester Report *2nd* and Hall of Fame Voting

Just like everyone else, I’m very much looking forward to a new standard format with M15. However, the new set will only represent (approximately) one eighth of the legal cards in standard. No matter how exciting new cards like Nissa, Worldwaker and Garruk, Apex Predator might be, the new format is probably destined to feel a fair bit similar to the old one. What’s good in standard now will still be good in standard next month, and it never hurts to approach something new with a mastery of the backdrop behind it.

So with Pro Tour Portland on the horizon, I felt that it couldn’t hurt to brush up on standard, and I headed up to New England for the Starcitygames.com Open. Since my goal was to increase my understanding of the format, and since I’d played U/W for so long (with unspectacular results), I decided to give Monoblue Devotion a whirl.

Monoblue is a simple deck with a simple gameplan, so don’t try to make it more complex than it is. Your wins are going to be more correlated with curving out: one, two, three, four; and less correlated with finding your spicy one-ofs and cute combat tricks. I found Hall of Triumph to be bad. Rapid Hybridization and Cyclonic Rift are bad cards, but necessary evils. It can be nice to draw one interactive spell in a game, but it’s very easy to overdo it.

The important card to discuss with my decklist is Domestication. This card is great for the metagame as it’s basically the best card in the mirror, and is also excellent against Black Devotion. It’s not stellar against Jund Monsters, but you can usually find a way to use one copy. There are a lot of random decks (say, Boros Reckoner decks or Voice of Resurgence decks) where Domestication also shines.

The place where Domestication is bad is against Control, but that’s a strange matchup where having a dead card is unlikely to be the deciding factor. It’s very hard to beat Supreme Verdict in game one, so my plan is usually just to jam all my creatures and put the game in a situation where I lose if they have it, but win if they don’t. Games like that don’t run on thin margins, so having a dead card sometimes doesn’t cost you.

The tournament started out with a small moral victory. From the list I’d previously been playing, I’d cut Hall of Triumph for Hypnotic Siren. The very first game of the tournament, I won with Hypnotic Siren, but would’ve lost if it’d been Hall of Triumph instead! I mulliganed to five against Jacob Bachand’s B/W Midrange deck, but he had a Thoughtseize-heavy hand, and I was able to just barely reach the twenty damage mark with a Mutavault and a turn 1 Hypnotic Siren.

I rattled off wins against Jund Monsters and White Weenie before finding myself against Camaron Caron’s Junk Constellation deck. I had a poor draw in game one and was handily defeated. Game two was looking good, but then I made a play that I thought was going to cost me my tournament.

On one very complex turn, I surveyed the board, considered all of my options, and determined that my best play was to cast Domestication on Camaron’s Eidolon of Blossoms. However, after I’d made that decision, I made the “good” play (aka the overly fancy, awful play) or attacking before casting my spell. I was shocked when Camaron allowed his Eidolon of Blossoms to die in combat!

I’d had the notion that Camaron would never put his Eidolon in combat. For one thing, during the previous combat step he’d demonstrated the desire to keep it alive by not trading with Tidebinder Mage. For another, I perceived it as an extremely scary card that would allow his deck to more or less “go off” if it went unanswered. However, whether it was because his hand didn’t have many enchantments, or because he felt he was falling too far behind on the board, or because he read me for Domestication, Camaron blocked and his Eidolon died. After combat, there was no longer any target for my Domestication and I had no play, passing a crucial turn and giving Camaron breathing room to get back in the game.

On his turn, he cast two removal spells and suddenly I was losing what had looked a moment ago like a locked-up game. We battled it out for a few turns and I was narrowly saved from an embarrassing loss. Camaron made an aggressive play with Herald of Torment, I scried into a Frostburn Weird to give me enough devotion for Thassa and won the race on the dot.

I had a nut-draw in game three and won the match.

Rounding out the swiss rounds I beat Monoblack, Burn, a Monoblue mirror match, and a Naya midrange deck to lock up the top eight at 8-0.

Unfortunately, in the quarterfinals I had to face my worst matchup among the remaining players (perhaps my worst matchup possible) in Bant Control. Anthony Rofino had the traditional U/W Control shell in game one that’s such a tough matchup for Monoblue. After sideboarding, he had Mistcutter Hydras, which are not only excellent cards for the matchup in general, but also trump my sideboard strategy of trying to sit back on my nine counterspells.

I had a brief strategy session with my teammate Matt Costa, and we decided that the best plan was more or less to employ the same strategy anyway, and only worry about the Mistcutters once they showed up. I could race in the air, block with Mutavaults, or overload the board and force Anthony to Supreme Verdict away his own creature.

I was blessed with a great hand in game one and won what was supposed to be my most disadvantaged game of the match. Games two and three wound up being incredibly close races against giant Mistcutter Hydras. I narrowly lost game two, and narrowly won game three. Both games featured me intentionally Dissolving a Mistcutter Hydra just to scry!

My semifinal match was against Jared Boettcher and his B(r) Devotion deck. Jared is a wildly successful up-and-coming PT player who just happened to have demolished me in our last two encounters. I had a lot of pride riding on this match, and it probably meant more to me than the actual stakes of the match would’ve suggested.

In game one, Jared mulliganed to five cards, but had an excellent five card hand that made for a competitive game. The deciding factor was my maindeck Domestication stealing his Pack Rat and forcing him to turn to the too-slow Underworld Connections to try to win.

Game two was equally lopsided, but in the other direction. Jared played removal spell, removal spell, Desecration Demon as I flooded out and died in the mid game.

In game three, it was my turn to mulligan and I had no play until turn 3. Fortunately, Jared didn’t have Pack Rat and we reached the mid game at relative parity. I played Nightveil Specter, Jared played Desecration Demon. I played Cloudfin Raptor and Thassa, God of the Sea, Jared attacked and played a second Desecration Demon.

At this point I used one of the many cool tricks with Domestication: since you don’t have to sacrifice a four-power creature until the end of the turn, I was able to take Jared’s untapped Demon and sacrifice it to his other Demon during combat. I attacked for eight and kept myself in the race.

Jared attacked again, putting me at a precarious seven. He Doom Bladed my Cloudfin Raptor and cast Erebos, God of the Dead. I untapped and scried into Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Nykthos made four blue mana, enough to cast Bident of Thassa with three Islands still untapped. This animated Thassa and allowed me to crash in for seven damage and two draws off Bident. I had Rapid Hybridization in my hand, and was really hoping to draw into a one or two drop so that I could press my advantage on the board while still leaving up an answer to Desecration Demon.

I was fortunate enough to draw Frostburn Weird, so I played that and passed with one blue available. Jared’s last remaining card was Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but the Rapid Hybridization took out the demon, mitigated the life loss, and kept Erebos from becoming active and I won the match.

My tournament came to an anticlimactic end when I ran into my good friend and world-class player Gerard Fabiano with Esper Control. In game one I mulliganed to a land-heavy hand and Gerard dismantled me with two Thoughtseizes and a Supreme Verdict. In game two he stuck an early Ashiok and I had no action other than counterspells in my hand, and just patiently waited until Ashiok ticked up to ultimate and ruined me.

Despite a convincing loss in the finals, I was happy for Gerard and it was a great experience to play against a good friend in the finals of a tournament. I feel that Monoblue is the best deck in standard (not by a huge margin) because it bats close to 50/50 against the other top decks, but tends to have extremely good matchups against a lot of rogue strategies. I recommend it as a safe choice, even after the release of M15.

Hall of Fame Voting

This will be my second year voting for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Casting a ballot has proven to be a far more complicated process than I ever would have imagined before I earned a vote. There are dozens of statistics to consider for dozens of potential candidates. There are intangible factors like deckbuilding, community contributions, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game. There’s no easy way to evaluate these things, nor is there a formula for deciding who deserves a vote and who does not.

My personal decision-making process is more or less two steps (although each step is quite involved). First, I look at those candidates who meet my expectations in terms of career statistics. While every player is going to have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, these expectations are something on the magnitude of: four PT top eights, twelve or so additional PT cashes, and a number of other achievements (GP’s or anything else) that display continued dedication and excellence in MtG.

Next, from those candidates, I look for those players who have some kind of exclamation point in their career that would make them a valuable inclusion in the Hall of Fame. This “exclamation point” can take many forms; Pro Tour wins and Player of the Year titles are just two of the obvious ones. The intangible factors mentioned above come into play at this point, as does the question of “has this player especially impressed me?” Note that this “especially” means exceeding the very high standards of the Hall of Fame, something that only a handful of players have really done.

The Candidates

Willy Edel is one of the best cases of community contributions of all time. My understanding is that South American Magic would not be what it is today without him. South America, and Willy’s home country of Brazil in particular, is today an extremely important and positive addition to the global MtG community. (This is especially impressive given that South American players are at a substantial disadvantage in terms of the accessibility of premier events across the world). In the background of it all is Willy Edel.

Unfortunately, Willy is an example of a player whose statistics do not meet my minimum expectations for the Hall of Fame. The good news is that, with four Pro Tour top eights, Willy already has the hardest part taken care of! Willy has solid, but unspectacular Grand Prix results.

What really holds him back is his lack of additional PT cashes beyond his four top eights. Willy Edel has only cashed a total of eight Pro Tours, which is well below the standard for the Hall of Fame.

As a side note, I quite like Willy; the small amount of time I’ve spent with him has been one hundred percent positive. I greatly look forward to voting Willy Edel into the Hall of Fame in, say, two years, once he’s had a chance to round out his resume with some additional PT cashes and GP top eights.

Next I looked at the group of exceptional candidates with fewer than four top eights. Four PT top eights is not a minimum threshold that’s set in stone, per se, but a candidate needs to be very, very special to earn my vote with fewer than that. I will not be voting for Martin Juza, Shouta Yasooka, or Tom Martell—who all have fewer than three top eights—despite each of them having a number of extremely impressive achievements and qualities.

There are three standout cases of players with three top eights. These are Justin Gary, Osyp Lebedowicz, and Eric Froehlich. These players all have statistics and ratios that hint at being some of history’s all time greats. However, they don’t have quite enough to overcome the disadvantage that they have compared to the four and five-top-eight candidates. With a fourth top eight, any of these players would be deserving of a vote, and I can even envision some achievements other than a Pro Tour top eight which might lead me to vote for them next year.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Mark Herberholz, and Marijn Lybaert are all players with four PT top eights that do meet my minimum standards of statistics (although Marijn is borderline). It wouldn’t damage the integrity of the Hall of Fame if these players were to get in. However, in my opinion, they don’t have that “exclamation point” that would make them slam-dunk, positive additions.

Mark Herberholz does have a Pro Tour win, which counts a tremendous amount in my book. However, he has no additional PT top sixteens (beyond his four top eights), and only four GP top eights, (and a U.S. Nationals top eight). By Hall of Fame standards, this is simply not that many Magic tournaments to have done well in.

My Ballot

I voted for Makahito Mihara last year, and since then he achieved a fifth PT top eight; he’s a slam-dunk. I feel fine letting his stats speak for themselves, but I’d also like to add (for those who don’t know) that Makahito Mihara has displayed long-term excellence in several of Japan’s major tournament circuits, including five top eights at Japanese Nationals.

He also has the intangible factor of being an excellent deckbuilder, often putting up results with unorthodox strategies that he developed himself.

I found him to be a pleasant and talented opponent when we were paired at Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa has a similarly excellent resume featuring five PT top eights. He’s also a phenomenal deckbuilder, and a player that I particularly admire, even among the greats. For my money, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is one of the twenty best Magic players in the history of the game.

There’s one thing giving me pause about this vote, which is Guillaume’s suspension in the wake of the premature spoiling of New Phyrexia.

To me, no amount of results can serve to outweigh cheating. (I will not be voting for Katsuhiro Mori or Tomoharu Saito this year). However, while Wafo-Tapa’s actions were not consistent with the highest level of professional integrity, they also fall in a different category from cheating during tournament gameplay.

In short, I do count the godbook spoiling as a strike against Wafo-Tapa; it alone prevented me from voting for him last year. However, it’s not a black-and-white dealbreaker to me, and his excellence in other categories is enough to earn him my vote in the face of one splotch on his resume.

I have the most to say about Paul Rietzl. Paul’s resume is exactly what I expect from a Hall of Famer—no less, but also no more. He has four PT top eights including a win, and nine GP top eights including two wins. Looking at results alone, Paul meets the standards of the Hall of Fame, and an individual voter can decide whether the Pro Tour win is enough of an exclamation point to earn her vote or not.

But I have no doubts about casting my vote for Paul Rietzl; in fact, I’ve looked forward to doing so for years. It’s because of my personal experiences with the man.

Pro Tour success requires the highest level of competitive spirit. In anything but the most exceptional of people, this competitive drive and passionate desire to win will lead to lapses in sportsmanship. It can take the form of anything from cheating to bribery to taking out frustrations on opponents or judges to a dozen other ugly incarnations. It’s something that myself and countless others have struggled with at one point or another.

Not Paul. Paul Rietzl simultaneously represents the highest levels of both competitiveness and sportsmanship. This is what professional MtG and, more specifically, the Hall of Fame ought to be all about.

He’s unflinchingly honest, campaigns to clean up the game, and sets the best possible example for players at any level of competition.

Paul also demonstrates a great deal of humility. He expects the most from himself and takes responsibility for his own mistakes and losses. He’s always willing to hear another opinion, and ready to admit if he’s wrong about something. In his years of competing with (and usually beating!) the other best players in the world, I’ve never once heard him boast about himself or put another player down.

In short, Paul Rietzl, the person, exemplifies all of the qualities I hope for in a Hall of Famer. I’m thrilled that Paul Rietzl, the player, has achieved the impressive and well-rounded resume that leaves me with no doubts about casting a vote for him.

So my (tentative) ballot for this year is:

Makahito Mihara
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa
Paul Rietzl

I haven’t yet submitted my votes, and welcome discussion in the comments.

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